Mr. Robert Molloy, T.D.,
Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, Ireland

to the Special Session of UN General Assembly on the Habitat Agenda, New York

Thursday 7 June 2001


 The adoption five years ago of the Habitat Agenda at Istanbul marked a watershed in tackling the social and environmental challenges associated with human settlement development. This special session affords the world community the opportunity of reviewing the progress achieved, analysing existing and emerging trends and reaffirming our commitment to the very sound principles that have underpinned the Habitat process.

I would like to echo the sentiments expressed by my Swedish colleague on behalf of the European Union, especially the view that this special session must come up with a political and powerful message restating our commitment to improve the living conditions for all that will result in concrete actions, not just words. Our work here will also make a substantial contribution to next years Rio + 10 World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The problems of urbanisation are common to all participating countries and the Habitat Agenda is of crucial importance to all of us in our national land use, environmental and housing policies. The Habitat process through the mechanism of national reports affords and encourages a sharing of ideas, experiences and innovative and varied approaches to these issues. The five years since Istanbul have been remarkable for my own country as this period has coincided with the most sustained and intense period of economic growth that the country has experienced for many decades. Irish cities and Dublin in particular have been the engine rooms of this economic success. However, this has brought new pressures. Our National Habitat Report reflects the sheer pace, scale and fundamental nature of the responses that have been required to meet these new challenges.

A major focus of the Habitat Agenda is the need for co-operation between all partners, be they national and local Government, community and voluntary groups, employers and trade unions. Our recent experience has demonstrated that such partnership is vital to building the consensus required to achieving social, economic and sustainable growth.

This partnership approach is embodied in a national agreement, the Programme for Partnership and Fairness. Its key aims are to underpin Ireland's competitiveness and develop economic prosperity on a sustainable basis, while enhancing the quality of life in the context of a fairer and more inclusive society. For example, the Government has established a National Housing Forum where all the social partners can make a direct contribution to housing policy formulation.

There is also an emphasis on the development of local governance initiatives through for example, Local Agenda 21, aimed at maximising the involvement and participation of local communities in the democratic process. This includes the identification of targeted interventions in areas where cumulative disadvantage is acute and also the encouragement of economic and social development in rural communities.

We have embarked on a major programme of local government reform which endeavours to encourage openness, transparency at both the political and administrative levels and involving community and local groups. New County Development Boards have been established to formulate strategies for a more integrated approach to local government and local development and to ensure a more coherent service delivery system at local level.

The Government is committed to achieving more balanced development throughout the whole country. We are preparing a National Spatial Strategy with the objective of ensuring that the regions have a greater share of economic activity in the years ahead. At the same time it will deal with the problems of congestion arising from the growth of the Greater Dublin Area. Thus the Strategy which will take a long term perspective, over a 20 year period, should contribute to the improvement of quality of life for communities throughout the country.

The development of a comprehensive National Anti-Poverty Strategy framework has been has been one of the most important areas in which the social partnership approach has facilitated the enhancement of equality through the elimination of poverty. This ten-year Strategy recognises poverty eradication as a vitally important issue in the public policy context.

Each participating country must devise policies and mechanisms to deliver on the broad principles being discussed here. The provision of adequate shelter for all is a central component of Irish social policy and will continue to be at the heart of how we deliver on the principles enunciated at Istanbul and which are being reaffirmed in the draft Declaration. The Irish Government has launched an integrated strategy to comprehensively tackle homelessness. This recognises that homelessness is increasingly a symptom of social problems that cannot be addressed solely in a housing context. A comprehensive approach involving both shelter and support to enable homeless persons to re-integrate into society is required.

We have also established a new statutory framework to meet the accommodation needs of Travellers; local authorities are obliged to draw up, adopt and implement a five-year programme to meet the accommodation needs of Travellers in their areas. This includes addressing their specific needs through, for example, the provision of halting sites.
The issue of Overseas Development Aid has engendered significant interest and debate at this special session and we fully recognise the its importance. At last year's UN Millennium Summit, Ireland gave a solemn undertaking that we would reach the UN target of 0.7% of GNP for official development assistance (ODA) by 2007. Ireland is on target to meet our commitment which will see our national development assistance programme increase four fold by 2007. By 2003, Ireland will increase spending on ODA by 102 % over the level in 2000 to reach US$469m the largest ever increase in our national ODA budget. This rate of expansion is without precedent for any donor.

I have tried to touch on some of the key areas which are of relevance to my Government in delivering on the key Habitat objectives. This process has provided an invaluable opportunity to forge a new vision for the years ahead.

While the problems are formidable and overcoming them will test our resolve and ingenuity to the full, we have seen that when faced with what have seemed insurmountable problems communities, municipalities and governments have risen to the challenge. I am convinced, therefore, that we will succeed in giving effect to the principles outlined in the draft Declaration and ensure a better future for all.
Thank You.